We arrived back in KL to join the Tourist Board/WTR Magazine FAM trip. We used our own bikes: we did warn them they are not as fast as KTM950's or BMW1200's, so they gave us our own escort of two Goldwings - they called themselves the babysitters!
We started with a coach tour of KL which included a stop outside the King's Palace and a visit to the Batu Cave Hindu Temple.
On the Sunday we got taken to the Malaysian Moto Grand Prix which was an amazing first-time experience for us, and watched Valentino Rossi storm to a win after a very exciting race.
After the Moto GP, we visited the Pennzoil factory, one of the leading oil brands in Malaysia and a joint venture with UMW a Malaysian company. They are building a stonking new factory in China. Another Malaysian success story is the Naza bike shop – row upon row of shiny superbikes, fast cars and the home of Harley Malaysia.
We then went on a whistle-stop tour with several other foreign journalists and local hosts, up to the north west of peninsular Malaysia, staying in gorgeous hotels such as the Impiana in KL and the Pangkor Island Resort Hotel.
Pangkor is a small, beautiful island, about 40 minutes from the mainland We enjoyed a boat trip and a visit to a fish-drying factory and an amazing Chinese temple. As we’d left our bikes on the mainland, touring was on a bunch of mopeds which was highly amusing.
Back on the mainland, we test rode the new Modenas electric bike, after a visit to the factory in Gurun which makes mainly small motorcycles. Modenas have developed this bike to cater for urban commuters, and plantation workers who need to do about 35km a day. Our test ride was 1200 metres up then down the spectacular Jerai Mountain, a solitary limestone outcrop overlooking flat rice plains – it was a tough test for the little bikes but they made it and we hurtled silently down – a weird feeling. We stayed at the Regency Jerai Hill Resort, a collection of lovely bungalows and fabulous views across the plains to the sea.
The C-tric bike will be under US$1600 when launched, and uses lead-acid nano-gel batteries to keep the price down. It was completely designed and built in Malaysia and they claim it will do up to 105kph. However the Road Transport people have yet to formulate a way of licensing electric bikes without letting in even cheaper Chinese imports.
Heading south again, it was a relief when we got off the fast express ways (great on a powerful bike…) up to the Cameron Highlands – wonderful sweeping bends and fantastic cream teas, and best of all beautifully cool. Normally, we trundled along behind the group with our Goldwing babysitters, but when we got to the windy highland roads somebody asked where we were and the response they got was 'At the front!' Ha!
From there we had another lovely ride through the hills to Bukkit Fraser, another extremely steep lone hill and again our little Falcons proved their worth on the hairpins.
We finally got back to KL for a superb final night’s dinner at the Impiana Hotel with several top folks from the Malaysian Tourist Board and said goodbye to all our new friends. Amongst them were some bike journos from Indonesia…. so now we have invitations to go play bikes there too. Next winter perhaps!
In the middle of this trip our computer decided to throw a wobbly and open up a couple of hundred windows if/when the on/off switch deigned to operate. So I took it apart and washed the keyboard (yes there is a certain amount of logic in my reasoning). It has been a bit shaky and unreliable since August (Sho: and since Pat dropped it off the top bunk in a Mexican hostel well before that….) but the internet connections have not been wonderful either.
Sho went and bought a second baby computer in KL and needless to say mine has recovered for the moment. So now I have two bikes and two computers to maintain.
Kidnapped again just as we were leaving KL, we spent a couple of nights in the posh area of Shah Alam with Yang and Izan, one of our Goldwing baby Honda escorts. We got a ride on the back of a couple of Goldwings through KL at night while we were staying with them. I have to admit it was comfortable and great fun, just for a change.
At this point we thought we really ought to get a move on before our Malaysian visas ran out, so went north again. We had to pass the Cameron Highlands again so diverted up there for some more windy roads, another haircut and some more Chinese food.
We next went to Penang, an amazing World Heritage City with wonderful colonial architecture and great food.
spent a long time in the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi – which is said to be the finest Chinese clan house in Malaysia. The Chinese are in a majority in Penang and this is the richest meeting place and temple of all, full of fabulous carvings and frescoes.
Captured once more by Noor’s spider web of bikers, we were met here and escorted over the ferry by Azmi and his friend to Noor’s friendly bike mechanic in Sungai Petani. We only planned to consult him about Sho’s weeping fork seal, but he changed our engine oil and fitted the new fork seal for about £32 including the oil. Mr Wong, leader of the local bike gang hosted us in a posh hotel and we had dinner with all the bikers.
Once arrived at Noor’s house near Jitra in Kedah, about an hour and a half from the Thai border, we discovered that our International Driving Permits had expired – oops. Various calls to the RAC and Sho’s brother later, two new IDPs were couriered to us.
We had a lovely chill-out time at Noor’s, and attempted to catch up with ourselves. Doing our tax returns etc however was less than fun…. Fortunately, at often no notice, we discovered that Mrs Stirfry had organised for us to do something with the locals.
One day we ended up at a Malaysian wedding (a small one... only 4000-5000 guests from the local kampongs or villages) who all have to be fed, then visited an unconscious biker in intensive care (his wife had been killed in the crash), and finally some squeaky new twins born a few hours earlier in another hospital. This two hour jaunt turned into another 100km and about 10 hours!
We have certainly gained a fascinating insight into Malaysian and Muslim culture. The subject that riveted us most was polygamy. A couple of men we talked to, who each had two wives, said that they had to scrupulously divide their time and their money fairly. From what we saw, they did so. One guy told us that his first wife didn’t speak to him for several months when he got married again. Overall, the men seemed pretty satisfied with the situation. The women didn’t seem so keen. One told us fiercely she would divorce her husband if he took a second wife (not sure how she could do this in law) and another (a second wife) said it is very difficult to find a decent man who is not already married. It’s hard for westerners like us to comprehend polygamy, but (Sho here) I think of a friend who was recently cruelly dumped and divorced by her husband of 15 years for a younger model, utterly devastating her and crippling her financially..
We also learned some Bahasa (Malay language) – our favourite expression is Mat Salleh – originally a corruption of “mad sailor” – ie the first foreigners who came to Malaysia – we were frequently called Mat Salleh Gilah (mad white people) by Noor so we just had to retaliate with Malayu Gilah – mad Malay.
Another day, we got invited to a lunch.....We rode out with Noor in clean teeshirts to a motorway toll entry and parked up. Soon joined by about 15 cops on big white bikes and flashing lights. Nice chats and silly photos and they said disparagingly of our bikes after riding them "no pick up" ... well they were on VFR 750's but I bet we'd keep up on the twisties!
Then a roar of bikes and about 100 sped past - we set off at full throttle behind them trying to keep up and one of the marshalls then led us weaving through at even higher speed to get to the front of the pack and join the two other ladies... and all this through town with the cops and marshalls working as a team on each junction. Scary.
Once at the Deputy Minister of Kedah's place we were taken up to his table and introduced to him and to a prince from Johore (state in south Malaysia where the ride started) and his wife. Made polite noises and retired to our table and found ourselves next to the organiser of the ride. The bikers were doing a charity ride round the whole of Malaysia in 6 days (rather them than us is all I can say).
We declined their offer to join them for the rest of the day as this would involve more high speed motorway rides to the university followed by many speeches in Bahasa and then more motorway speeding (cops joining in BTW) to another state.
While at Noor’s we had to renew our travel insurance. AXA, who had insured us for a year and had agreed to give us another year’s insurance, reneged on their promise and would only give us 6 months… All efforts to find anything else failed. Nobody would insure us because a) we are already on the road and b) they think we are too old and shouldn’t be doing this sort of thing.
By the time we were ready to leave Noor’s (she kept delaying us with more activities….) it had started to rain, and rain, and rain. We put all ours and Noor’s stuff up on chairs and tables and watched the water level in the storm drain outside her garden rise and rise. Fortunately we were not flooded, but around a hundred thousand homes and small businesses in Kedah, Perlis (north of us) and eastwards in the Kota Bharu region were. We were stuck for over a week as the main motorway to Kuala Lumpur and the roads to the Thai border were under water, but went out periodically on the bikes to see what was going on.
We had one place left to visit – the island of Langkawi, so as soon as the floods receded we left our bikes with Noor’s friends Hanis and Chegu Mat at Kuala Perlis and hopped on a ferry to Langkawi. Here we hired a couple of step-throughs and zoomed all over the island. To our astonishment the father of the new-born twins had booked us into the very nice Landcons hotel for a couple of nights – thanks very much Achin!
We spent a third night on a dive-boat belonging to Za, whom we’d met at Awi’s Yellow House in Kuala Terengganu – she’s a Malaysian dive-master who is fitting the boat out as a live-aboard for diving packages. One of these days we’ll go back and do a dive course with her. Especially as she produced Dorset Cereals for breakfast which gob-smacked us.
Back on the mainland, we were scooped up again and delivered to a homestay in Perlis where Noor and us were all hosted by the local bikers for two nights. Thanks very much guys. Very interesting as the family were rice farmers – we discovered Malaysians eat an average of 60kg of rice a year just like the Japanese. They receive 750 ringgit for 100 kilos of rice - about £160.
Noor joined us here for our last 24 hours in Malaysia and the final party night with the local bikers, before accompanying us to the border. Here we discovered that somehow we had overstayed our visa by one day – oops – which can mean all sorts of dire things but the officer gave us a stern wigging and let us go. Noor chatted up the Thai immigration chief to such an extent he shared his lunch with her, gave us bottles of water, and offered to let her into Thailand despite the fact she’d forgotten her bike papers. However she decided not to and went home.
What an amazing three months in Malaysia – we met hundreds of bikers, made some friends for life, celebrated Ramadan with them (well not during the day…) and Hari Raya. At times we felt a bit like a precious parcel which was passed from group to group around Malaysia. We hope that as many of them as possible will be able to come and visit us in Dorset one of these days.
Our heartfelt thanks to all of you and apologies to anybody we have not managed to shoehorn into this blog.
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